The PSU AWG group presented a poster at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, CA. We had a great time talking about the work that our chapter has been doing and meeting with other groups that promote diversity, inclusion, equity, and access.
Student led organizations as a mechanism for improving department culture
The Penn State University student chapter of the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG), an international organization devoted to enhancing the experience of women geoscientists, was founded in 2012. The PSU AWG chapter established programs that broaden access to knowledge required to succeed in academia and industry, support underrepresented groups in the field, and facilitate communication between students, faculty and industry. PSU AWG runs a student mentorship program, caters breakfasts with visiting speakers from underrepresented groups, fundraises for field camp students, and provides outreach to the public. Each facet of our organization serves unmet or underserved needs in our community, and has acted as a catalyst for change in the department.
The mentor program pairs undergraduates (24 students for 2018-19) with graduate student mentors to provide advice on academic and career options. Breakfast meetings with visiting speakers facilitate candid discussions on work-life balance and navigating careers from a variety of perspectives. AWG-led department lunches have fostered discussions on issues in academia, including mental health, accessibility, and impostor syndrome. Scholarship fundraising began in 2013 to target the financial burden of PSU’s required undergraduate field camp on female and underrepresented students. AWG awards multiple scholarships annually which totaled $3,250 in 2019. In addition to participating in outreach sponsored by community groups, AWG has hosted their own events. Most notably, programs surrounding the visiting Bearded Lady Project exhibit brought 130 secondary school girls from across the state to PSU for activities exposing them to the geosciences.
By encouraging participation in the department, the chapter implements student-designed and student-run programs to benefit the broader community. The organization has emerged as a key interface between administrators and students, working with faculty to co-sponsor programming aimed at student mental health and advocating diversity and inclusion in the geosciences. Active student participation and discussion, paired with forward-thinking department faculty and administrators, have increased efforts to create a more inclusive environment in geosciences.